Romans 8: 28 – 35, 37 – 39 Too Blessed to Be Stressed July 25, 2021


Too Blessed to Be Stressed
Romans 8: 28 – 35, 37 – 39

(preached July 25, 2021)

In her book, The Hungry Ocean, Linda Greenlaw wrote about her life at sea with a crew of rough-and-tumble fishermen. Greenlaw was captain of a sword fishing boat, and in the book she describes the challenges of earning a living from the unpredictable business of fishing. She also writes about the challenges of her relationships with the fishermen in her crew. Each one is a distinct character, with different personality quirks. But all of them share what Greenlaw calls “the fishing mentality.”

According to Greenlaw, the fishing mentality is distrustful of good fortune. If a fisherman has a long run of beautiful, sunny weather, he becomes suspicious because things are going so well. If he hauls in enormous numbers of fish day after day, he becomes leery about all the good luck he’s having.

Greenlaw writes, “the powers that be are known by fishermen to be somewhat whimsical in their doling out of good and bad …The majority of fishermen have learned the hard way not to boast, or gloat, or even speak of a pleasing situation for fear of jinxing themselves, summoning a tide of misfortune” (Greenlaw, p. 195).

Greenlaw goes on to describe some of the strange things the fishermen do, hoping to stay on the right side of the powers that be. One of her friends, also a swordboat captain, was known to neither shower nor shave during a run of favorable fishing. He didn’t allow his crew to shower or shave either. Greenlaw says, “In his mind, he was doing everything he could to maintain the status quo” (Greenlaw, p. 195).

She goes on to tell about her own attempts to, so to speak, stack the deck of fortune in her favor. Once she wore the same purple T-shirt for twenty-two days in a row. She refused to take it off. She even slept in it, because the shirt had brought good luck.

You may never have put to sea on a fishing boat, but how do you see yourself in relation to what Greenlaw calls the powers that be? Do you, like those fishermen, try to influence any forces that might be responsible for the good and the bad things that happen? Do you have any little mannerisms you use to stack the deck of fortune in your favor?

I think a lot of us do things to bring good luck. It might simply be choosing that lucky tie to wear to the job interview. When you don’t know what the future holds, it’s understandable to try to nudge the course of events in your favor. You and I may not be at the mercy of storms, like the crew of a fishing boat, but life is still unpredictable. How do we live in the midst of all that unpredictability? How do we make our way in a world that often seems at the mercy of random forces?

The world is an unpredictable place, and it’s understandable that we humans try at times to steer things on a favorable course. But in his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul assures us that we don’t need to wear purple T-shirts for days on end, or knock on wood, or try to stack the deck of fortune in our favor. We don’t need to stress out about the bad things that might happen. We don’t need to stress because our lives are not at the mercy of random forces. Far from it: Paul assures us that when we follow Jesus, our lives are shaped by a loving Creator. When we follow Jesus, we live in the care of a God who loves each of us more than we can possibly imagine.

Paul writes, “We know that God works all things together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” What an amazing statement! “God works all things together for good!” What inspiration to remember when we run up against tough situations! God works all things together for good! Those words can calm our fears about the unknown. Paul is not tentative or half-hearted here. He says, “I am sure that neither death, nor life…nor things present, nor things to come…nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ.”

Blessed by the love of God in Christ, we can surmount any obstacle. We can move through times of trial, sustained by the promise that God’s purposes will prevail. No matter how unpredictable our world might be, God’s love is constant, steadfast, reliable. God’s love is so strong, so persistent, that nothing in all creation can separate us from it.

God is at work in all things, everywhere, to bring about good. That’s a powerful, positive statement: an invitation to see the possibility for good in every situation. Talking the way a lot of people talk these days, we might say it’s an invitation to a positive attitude. And it is. But what Paul is talking about here goes deeper than a positive attitude. He’s not expressing a vague hope that somehow or other things always work out. Paul could never have proclaimed such simplistic optimism. He had been through too much pain in his life to proclaim faith in a God who simply helps us look on the bright side of life.

Paul doesn’t ignore the adversity that is part of life. He knew that the Jesus followers who were listening to his words would endure real suffering. He was writing to a community of Christians he knew would face persecution. The Roman government required all residents of the Roman Empire to declare that Caesar was Lord. Because Christians claimed Jesus, and not Caesar, as their Lord, they would face harassment, torture, even death at the hands of powerful rulers who hated their god and their faith. They would have no use for an apostle who simply told them, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

That message would also ring hollow to people today, who are going through real suffering. That message would ring hollow to the woman who’s just been diagnosed with a terminal illness. That message would rub salt in the wounds of the man and his family who have been driven from their home by war.

Paul doesn’t diminish or deny suffering. Pain and persecution were part of Jesus’ life, and pain and persecution will be part of the lives of those who follow him. Still, Paul is convinced that, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God has joined us in all our pain and sorrow. In Jesus, God stands with people who are suffering. Because Jesus has lived and died, going through the worst the world can do, God has shown that nothing – not even death – is beyond the reach of God’s love. So Paul can say with conviction, “We know that God works all things together for good for those who love him.”

No matter how painful our lives may be, God is working, in the midst of that pain, for good. No matter how unpredictable the world may be, God is working, in the midst of that unpredictability, for good. God’s love is constant, steadfast, reliable. God’s love is so strong that nothing in all creation can separate us from it.

“We know that God works all things together for good for those who love him.” When we affirm God’s purpose for good, we’re not saying that we think that in some way the forces of the universe will work in our favor. We’re not expressing a vague hopefulness that somehow or other things will work out. We are proclaiming that, in us and in other people, in ways we may not even recognize, the purposes of a loving Creator are at work. There is nothing life can throw at us that God cannot transform into a blessing.

Life is full of unpredictability. Painful things do happen. But when you and I know – really know, in our deepest hearts – that God is at work “in all things… for good for those who love him,” we are assured that our lives are held by God. We can live with compassion, assured that “neither death nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, …nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” When we comprehend that, really take it in; when we let the power of God work in us, we become part of God’s great work. We become a blessing to the world.







Rev. Elva Merry Pawle
Pentecost 9